(TheBlaze/AP) — Egypt’s Interior Ministry offered a rare expression of regret Saturday after riot police were caught on camera a day earlier beating a protester who had been stripped of his clothes, and then dragging the naked man along the muddy pavement before throwing him into a police van.
Video of the beating, which took place late Friday only blocks from the presidential palace, further inflamed popular anger with security forces as several thousand anti-government demonstrators marched on the palace again on Saturday.
In the footage aired live on Egyptian TV, at least seven black-clad riot police used sticks to beat 48-year-old Hamada Saber, who was sprawled out on the ground, shirtless and with his pants down around his ankles.
In a statement, the Interior Ministry voiced its “regret” over the assault and vowed to investigate. But it also sought to distance itself from the abuse, saying it “was carried out by individuals that do not represent in any way the doctrine of all policemen who direct their efforts to protecting the security and stability of the nation and sacrifice their lives to protect civilians.”
Later in the day, however, Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said the rioters were responsible for stripping the man– they were just trying to help.
“The Central Security Forces then found him lying on the ground and tried to put him in an armored vehicle, though the way in which they did that was excessive,” Ibrahim said. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s office called the video “shocking.”
The New York Times has more on the story, including Saber’s (perhaps questionable) recollection of the event:
Speaking from his hospital bed, he said that the riot officers had come to his aid as he was running from protesters who stripped and robbed him. He said the attack started after he felt what might have been a bullet or birdshot that struck him in the leg, which came, he said, from the “side of the protesters.”
“I was afraid,” he said, adding that as he ran, officers came to his aid. “They tried to help me,” he said.
His account contradicted the reports of witnesses, as well as the video, raising the question of whether he was intimidated or coerced by security officials.
…A witness, Mai Sirry, said she and others watching the protests from her apartment saw officers beat Mr. Saber and strip him of some of his clothes. Officers were cursing at him as they dragged him on the street, his pants around his knees, she said. [Emphasis added]
The Associated Press has video of the beating (extreme content warning):
The abuse took place as thousands of protesters chanted against President Mohammed Morsi on Friday. The march was part of a wave of demonstrations that have rocked Egypt since last week’s second anniversary of the 2011 revolt, leaving more than 60 people dead and plunging the country into turmoil once again.
In what appeared to be an effort to protect the police from a harsh backlash over the video, Ibrahim said that nearly 400 policemen have been wounded this past week in clashes, and warned that the disintegration of police will lead to even wider-spread chaos in the Arab world’s most populous nation.
“The collapse of police will affect Egypt and transform it into a militia state like some neighboring nations,” Ibrahim said, alluding to Libya where militias comprise the bulk of security after that nation’s uprising.
Already some Islamists have warned they could set up militias to protect their interests, while a group calling itself “Black Bloc” whose followers wear black masks claim to defend protesters opposed to the Islamist president’s rule.
In a defining image of post-Mubarak violence against protesters, Egyptians were outraged last year when military police were caught on camera dragging a veiled woman through the streets during a protest, pulling her conservative black robe over her head and revealing her blue bra.
Many are accusing his Muslim Brotherhood of monopolizing power and of failing to deal with the country’s mounting woes, demanding Morsi be removed from office.
“Morsi has been stripped bare and has lost his legitimacy. Done,” Ahmed Maher,who helped launch the anti-Mubarak protests, reportedly tweeted.
But Prime Minister Hisham Kandil also visited Cairo’s Tahrir Square Saturday, saying those who are camped out there are neither protesters nor revolutionaries.
Protesters “do not torch, attack hotels, rape women, steal from shops, they do not burn the presidential palace,” he said.